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Jermaine Aterrado, 4, (left), and his brother Cedrick, 3, are lost in their glow toys before the  Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Their mother, Jinky Aterrado, looks on.

Jermaine Aterrado, 4, (left), and his brother Cedrick, 3, are lost in their glow toys before the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Their mother, Jinky Aterrado, looks on. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Jermaine Aterrado, 4, (left), and his brother Cedrick, 3, are lost in their glow toys before the  Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Their mother, Jinky Aterrado, looks on.

Jermaine Aterrado, 4, (left), and his brother Cedrick, 3, are lost in their glow toys before the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Their mother, Jinky Aterrado, looks on. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Three-year-old Jesse Brooks waits patiently for his favorite Sesame Street characters before the  Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Three-year-old Jesse Brooks waits patiently for his favorite Sesame Street characters before the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Military families fill the Fleet gymnasium at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Oct. 6, 2011, for a Sesame Street/USO show.

Military families fill the Fleet gymnasium at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan, on Oct. 6, 2011, for a Sesame Street/USO show. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Arianna Rawles (left), 9, and her sister Joyah, 5, are all smiles prior to the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Arianna Rawles (left), 9, and her sister Joyah, 5, are all smiles prior to the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

The Sesame Street characters sang and danced for the better part of an hour about the difficulties of military life as a part of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

The Sesame Street characters sang and danced for the better part of an hour about the difficulties of military life as a part of the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

A new Sesame Street character named Katie addresses the audience in the Fleet gym at Sasebo Naval Base on Oct. 6, 2011. Katie was developed specifically for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families to relate to children about issues like moving to a new military installation and leaving friends behind.

A new Sesame Street character named Katie addresses the audience in the Fleet gym at Sasebo Naval Base on Oct. 6, 2011. Katie was developed specifically for the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families to relate to children about issues like moving to a new military installation and leaving friends behind. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Elmo greets his legion of adoring fans in the audience following the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Elmo greets his legion of adoring fans in the audience following the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Grover, foreground, and Cookie Monster explain through song and visuals that change can be good during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Grover, foreground, and Cookie Monster explain through song and visuals that change can be good during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Children stood in the front row, entranced by their favorite Sesame Street characters, during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.

Children stood in the front row, entranced by their favorite Sesame Street characters, during the Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families show Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

Joe Brown, 3, takes in a Sesame Street performance on the shoulders of his father, Chief Petty Officer Harvey Brown, on Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan.
Matt Burke/Stars and Stripes

Joe Brown, 3, takes in a Sesame Street performance on the shoulders of his father, Chief Petty Officer Harvey Brown, on Oct. 6, 2011, at Sasebo Naval Base, Japan. Matt Burke/Stars and Stripes (Matthew M. Burke/Stars and Stripes)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — A packed gymnasium full of military children didn’t need to ask how to get to Sesame Street on Thursday night. Sesame Street came to them.

Grover, Cookie Monster and fan favorite Elmo sang and danced for just under an hour in a free program specifically designed for the children of servicemembers. The Sesame Street/USO Experience for Military Families — the program’s second variation since Sesame Street partnered with the USO in 2008 — addressed moving to a new military base and staying in touch with friends left behind.

The traveling show, based off the Emmy-winning television show that has been a staple of American culture since it first aired in 1969, was supposed to visit the small base in southwestern Japan over the summer but was pushed back due to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, according to USO tour manager Lonnie Cooper. After making stops at military communities in almost a dozen different countries including Belgium and Turkey, the characters performed a show Thursday and were scheduled for another Friday in Sasebo. The show will wrap up for next month on Okinawa.

“The biggest thing for the kids is that they’re having fun,” Cooper said. “It’s great family entertainment” with a message.

Children and their parents poured into the Fleet gymnasium just before 6 p.m. Thursday night armed with USO bandanas and spinning handheld glow toys. Elmo was the first to greet the audience members at the Fleet gymnasium, leading them in a rendition of the Elmo shuffle.

New this year was a character named Katie who was struggling with an upcoming move to a new military base. Ever educational, the Sesame Street crew mixed in counting and even some Spanish phrasing on their way toward helping Katie realize she could make the best out of her situation and that change can be good.

“My mommy helps me write letters,” Grover explained.

“I’m so glad we’re going to stay in touch,” Katie replied. All the while Cookie Monster demanded someone send him cookies as sailors and their spouses snapped photos and children danced in front of the stage.

Joe Brown, 3, was left mesmerized as he sat on his father’s shoulders twirling his glow toy.

“It was a very good program,” Chief Petty Officer Harvey Brown said as he looked on in his Navy blues. “It’s good the kids can see Sesame Street because they might not be exposed to that here in Japan.”

Joe nodded emphatically when asked if the program was fun. His father smiled.

“Joe really likes Elmo,” the elder Brown said. “That’s his favorite character.”

Cooper said that Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit behind the show, did some work with military families and Elmo prior to 2008 and was looking to expand its role in reaching out to military families. The USO paired with them and developed the program and storyline specifically for military families. The first dealt with deployments, Cooper said.

“It’s a natural fit for us,” Cooper said of the partnership. “They are the best in the world at creating kids' entertainment.”

Few could argue as throngs of children surged forward at the end of the program to shake hands with their favorite characters, smiles growing from ear to ear.

burkem@pstripes.osd.mil

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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.
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